AN: To my great and everlasting sadness, I don't own these characters…

Brennan startled as she felt the mattress compress underneath her—a fizzle of alarm just starting to burn through the hazy fog of sleep.

"Shhh, it's just me, I didn't mean to scare you."

Booth. What was he doing coming into her bedroom, getting into her bed? Hadn't he been out on the couch? The gears in her mind churned slowly to life. She rolled over to face him. In the dim, gunmetal light from the window, she could see how wide awake he was. The expression on his face was… almost wild. His eyes were too alert, his jaw clenched and tense.

"What's wrong?" she mumbled in a sleep-clogged voice.

"Bones… can I hold you?" His voice was tight with a fear that matched his eyes. "Please, just for a little while? I just need to…please. Don't say no," he spoke quietly, his voice low and intense.

She stared at her partner for immeasurable moments, searching his face. He seemed lost, scared. She couldn't find the voice to list her usual denials. She only saw her partner, her friend, and in the bare quiet of nighttime, words got stripped of their meaning anyway. The hours before dawn always seemed to do that. To simplify, to strip away the white noise, to distill any situation to its most basic elements and give the illusion of timelessness, to remove the world beyond the walls so that the only reality she could even contemplate existed within the space they occupied now. Everything else: jobs and families and histories and cars and buildings and weather and schedules: just the ghost of a reality that once was.

She rolled to face away from him and scooched backwards against his body, wordlessly inviting him to spoon in behind her. She held the hand that lighted hesitantly on her hip, surprised to find that he was shaking slightly, and pulled his arm tighter over and around her, gently insinuating their arms between her breasts so that she could place his palm over her heartbeat. She felt his sigh on the back of her neck, and the trembling in his hand ceased. They inched closer together and he fit his legs into the bend of her own, methodically eliminating any space between them, from her ankles to her knees, to her hips, to her back and shoulders, aligning himself to her body as perfectly as a jigsaw piece.

He slid one arm under her, at the curve of her waist, wrapping his arms completely around her and squeezing almost hard enough to limit her breath. He bowed his head behind hers, nestling into the curve of her neck. She felt his ribs expand as he inhaled the scent of her hair before the breath left his body in a shaky sigh. She wove her own arms around his more firmly and pressed backwards against him, as if she could meld herself into his skin. She'd never been held so closely, wrapped so securely in another person's arms. She didn't think, didn't analyze, didn't point out that he would surely lose circulation in the arm beneath her, just allowed the early morning to demand what it needed from them.

His hand moved upwards, crossing her breasts to find the bandage on her shoulder, tracing the square edges with light fingers. The bullet had passed cleanly through, an amazingly lucky spot, but still—it seemed like this kind of near-miss happened to them too frequently. She had gone to sleep with her own fears scratching and scrabbling in the well of her mind, persistently trying to climb up from the depths she had tried to sink them to. But apparently her partner's fear was even rawer than her own. And that, she could understand. The powerlessness of seeing someone you…cared about… hurt in a profound way that forced you to picture how differently the story could have been written. And while you rationally knew that what-ifs were a dangerous and pointless whim to indulge in, they tended to sneak in anyway, invited by the most mundane of details. That the lunch they'd shared at the diner could have been her last meal. That she never would have been able to return the message Angela left on her phone about doing brunch that weekend. That whoever would have been tasked with cleaning out her apartment would have had to clean the breakfast dishes from her sink. That Russ might not realize the pile of children's books she'd stowed in the back of her closet were intended as Christmas gifts for his girls. That her last book would remain forever unfinished. That the week's dry cleaning would never be picked up—her favorite jacket spinning around and around on the cleaner's carousel, an orphaned garment in a plastic bag that still held the shape of the woman who had ceased to exist. All the individual threads that wove together to form her life—they would be ripped, frayed, stopped suddenly and unanchored by a single stitch, unjoined to the threads around them, broken to the pitiless winds of onmarching time.

And then—most disturbingly—the people in her life might never know how she truly felt about them. Would Cam understand that Brennan had long since abandoned her doubts and insecurities, and come to view her boss as a respected ally that she could trust? Would Angela know that she'd always been more than a friend, almost like a guiding constellation that Brennan used to navigate life? Would Zach know that even more than her work, she'd always thought of him as her legacy? Would Hodgins know that she didn't think of him as merely a coworker, but that—as he'd said himself a long time ago—that it had been an honor? Would her father know that in the dysfunctional jumble of her feelings for him there had been something precious slowly healing? Would Booth know that… would Booth know…?

Her thoughts skittered and she gathered his arms more tightly around her. She wouldn't cry. Wouldn't even give voice to the fears she'd just visited. Maybe tomorrow, but not tonight. Tonight she would just let her partner hold her. Show him that there was no space between them anymore, that she'd let him in as far as he wanted to go. She knew this much about good men: that sometimes, no matter how capable or independent a woman was, they just needed to protect. It was seared into the primordial DNA strands that composed their humanity, as instinctual as swallowing or shivering or any of a hundred other physical impulses. The long line of men from which Booth had descended had managed to pass their genes to the next generation by being capable protectors, and he was the evolved culmination of those adaptations. She understood this more than she often let on, and wouldn't begrudge him this need tonight, or inform him of the scientific basis for his compulsion to watch over her. Tonight, she thought, as she snuggled even closer to the man whose broad chest formed a shield at her back, maybe she needed to be protected.